by Simon Berman, Deputy Chair BES

Reimagining was just the start

Over the past couple of years, we’ve learned at BES to shift our focus from a transactional model of community provision, where we provide events and services, people come to the shul to attend and consume what’s on offer, and then people go home.

In its place, we’ve begun to work on a relational way of working, looking at how we run events and services so that they are:

  • focussed on helping community members build relationships between one another, with the community and with their Judaism.
  • infused with energy and joy.
  • and engender a feeling of inclusivity, belonging and inspiration

Amongst many things, this has led to the set up of small VIBES Groups, the launch of a new members’ Buddies network, Rabbi Chapper and Eva’s weekly video chat, Children’s Birthday Breakfast, more moments of spiritual connection in our services, and an improved language and layout for weekly emails and some of our community letters.

However, I’ve realised recently that this is still a very top-down, imposed set of offerings, and that in some ways we need to move on from an Abrahamic mode into a Mosaic mode of community building.

From Abraham to Moses

Abraham was the exemplar of hospitality and embodied the idea of welcoming people, understanding their needs and problems, and making them feel that they belong.

In Vayera, in the book of Genesis, he is waiting at the door of his tent when three men appear. Abraham immediately ran to meet and greet them and see to their needs by providing food and drink and conversation: everything that we should be doing at all of our BES services and events.

However, Abraham’s approach was one of service provision rather than co-creation. He did things to his guests and didn’t involve them in the decisions or in the actions.

Moshe though was humble enough to realise that he couldn’t do it all (especially once Yitro had provided some coaching!).

The Children of Israel were far too large a group for Moshe to provide for all of their needs.

But perhaps more importantly he realised that there was value in the community taking part in the design and creation of their community.

In particular, the Children of Israel were invited to provide the materials to create the Tabernacle and, those that were appointed, were empowered to answer people’s questions and to deliver justice.

We need to engage in radical empowerment

At BES, we don’t pretend to be Moshe, but we do recognize that with 4,000 people belonging to the community, we can’t and in fact shouldn’t try and provide everything from the centre.

We should instead, as a leadership team and as a community, be saying that yes we’ll continue to provide the services and events that we have done in the past, and yes we will do our best to ensure that they focus on helping people make connections with one another and with their Judaism, but on top of that we should be saying to our members that we are here to help you make your ideas come to fruition and your dreams come true.

If there is something that our members want to do within the community then we want to help them make it happen.

This is very different from asking people to volunteer.

However important volunteering is, this is not about saying that we have a welcoming or a kiddush team, we need more people to join, and we think that you would enjoy being a part of it and meeting new friends as a result.

Instead this is radical empowerment.

This is a partnership.

This is a realisation that community is not something that is done to you but something that we build together.

Let’s build a stronger community together

I recently went to a healthcare conference and was startled to hear the same language being spoken there.

Health can no longer just be about transactions, visits and procedures, and needs to become relational: a conversation between patients and their care teams.

Health has to move out of the hospital and into the home.

Health has to be a partnership with community groups, patients and families.

Health has to be something that I own not something that is done to me.

And there is a similar message for our spiritual health, which in one way is what Jewish communities are trying to improve for their members. Let’s change the conversation and start talking about how we can help our BES members to create what they want to see in our community.

Let’s build a stronger community together.

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